Not-so-public contention: Movement strategies, regimes, and the transformation of public institutions in Brazil

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This article examines how political regimes structure the strategies activists can effectively utilize to transform public institutions. Drawing on Tilly's concept of "regime space" as a combination of capacity and democracy, the author analyzes the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement's (MST) attempt to implement alternative pedagogies in public schools in two diverse contexts: the state of Rio Grande do Sul and the municipality of Santa Maria da Boa Vista, Pernambuco. In Rio Grande do Sul's high-capacity democratic regime, social movement repertories and partisan politics are effective in transforming schools for a decade, until a right-leaning mobilization ends these initiatives. In contrast, in Santa Maria's low-capacity non-democratic regime, the MST engages in a Gramscian war of position and transforms public schools over multiple administrations. This comparison illustrates the relevance of subnational regimes in shaping contention, the strengths and weaknesses of diverse activist strategies, and the importance of not-so-public forms of contention in movement outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-121
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2015


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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